I realize that writing this opens me up to some serious “Freezing Cold Takes” treatment if things change, but right now, it looks like Big Ten membership should be very stable for the foreseeable future.
The conference has an exceptionally lucrative TV deal, and thanks to their massive alumni bases and deep history, should stand to be profitable no matter what happens next with the evolution of TV rights. The schools share similar academic profiles — everybody but Nebraska is in the AAU — and have similar missions. Plus they’re anchored by some of the biggest brands in the entire sport.
The Big Ten is the oldest conference in college football, and it sure doesn’t look like anybody would want to leave.
But just because we’re stuck with everybody doesn’t mean we have to love everybody equally. After all, Ohio State fans generally don’t have the same geographic tribalism that say, SEC fans do. Nobody is chanting “BEE-ONE-GEE” because Iowa or Maryland did something, unless they’re being meta/ironic.
So, since it’s late May and there isn’t a whole lot going on, let me pose a question to you:
Are these teams you wouldn’t miss if they left the Big Ten?
Clearly, losing some schools would be catastrophic. As much as us Buckeye fans hate Michigan, only the most sadistic of us would want anything to happen to the Wolverines that would end, or dramatically cheapen, their rivalry. Even if it isn’t cool to admit this in some corners of the internet, Penn State is basically a secondary rival, and losing them would suck. Ohio State has had meaningful games over the last decade with schools like Michigan State and Wisconsin, and even though they haven’t played that much, I imagine not that many Buckeye fans would want to see Nebraska leave so soon.
But other schools? Sure, I see the appeal of maintaining historical affiliations, or of academic prestige. But if we’re just talking about creating compelling matchups for Ohio State athletics, I’ll be honest with y’all — If three teams decided they were leaving the Big Ten tomorrow, I wouldn’t personally shed a tear.
Those teams? Minnesota, Northwestern, and Rutgers.
I don’t have anything personal against Minnesota. Minneapolis is a lovely city, and Minnesota is a great school. But let’s take a quick look at the recent history of the Ohio State-Minnesota series:
This hasn’t just been a one-sided affair; it’s been a mostly boring one-sided affair. Not only were most of these games blowouts, they weren’t meaningful. Over the last decade, the most important moments in Ohio State-Minnesota history was a 2014 win that wasn’t nearly as close as the score indicated, and a large adult assistant coach eating ice cream on the sidelines.
Minnesota’s basketball team has improved their fortunes significantly over the last year, and may compete for a Big Ten title next season, but they’ve also been up and down. Do any of you look forward to playing Minnesota in anything? Do you feel an especially close connection to anything Minnesota? I personally don’t.
Northwestern follows a similar pattern. Let’s take a look at that series:
You’ll have to go all the way back to 1971 to find the next Northwestern win. While the last two games have been close — and the 2013 game actually memorable and important — the historical rule whenever Ohio State and Northwestern play in anything is that Ohio State almost always wins. Often, by quite a bit.
Their stadiums are small and lag far behind the rest of the conference. Their alumni base is way smaller. And unless you live in Chicago, or work in the media or marketing, you probably don’t run into that many Northwestern fans in your life. You don’t need Northwestern in your life to have an excuse to go to Chicago. It’s okay.
It’s nice having another fancy-pants academic power in the conference, I guess. And their basketball program is improving, although we can still count their all-time NCAA tournament appearances on one finger. But if Northwestern left, and Ohio State played them once every 15 or 20 years as an out of conference opponent? That’d be fine with me. And this is coming from a guy that married an Evanston native and has family ties to the school.
The last almost goes without saying.
You don’t need me to rehash the argument against Rutgers, which could easily go 1,000 words, but let’s just be brief: Outside of lacrosse, wrestling and women’s soccer, Rutgers is bad at most sports, and because of the school’s financial situation and historical lack of investment, they’re likely to be bad at most sports for at least a while longer. They may be a decade plus away from beating Ohio State in football. They don’t have the benefit of decades and decades of historical affiliation with Ohio State. They’re not in the Midwest.
Every game you play against Rutgers is a game you don’t play against Nebraska, or Wisconsin, or Iowa, or somebody more fun out of conference. I wish the school nothing but the best, and for all of our sakes, I hope the athletic department continues its slow growth. But if they decided they were going to jump ship for the Big East 2: Electric Boogaloo and left tomorrow? I wouldn’t cry.
Maybe you feel differently. Maybe you’d be fine with Ohio State ditching Purdue, or Indiana, or Illinois. Maybe you hate the idea of non-midwestern expansion and want Maryland to leave; as a PG County resident, they’ve grown on me, but I’m selfish. Maybe you treasure the history so much that anybody leaving would crush you. Maybe you hate somebody else, I don’t know.
It’s academic, because nobody is leaving, nor should they. But if you’re going to tell me you’re personally hyped up for the next time Ohio State plays Northwestern, I think you’d be the first.